Fianna Fáil senator complains to Sipo over Web Summit’s €1m donation to ‘The Ditch’

Senator Malcolm Byrne

Gabija Gataveckaite

A Fianna Fáil senator has made a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) over a donation made by Paddy Cosgrave through the Web Summit to The Ditch news website.

Senator Malcolm Byrne has written to Sipo, claiming that neither Mr Cosgrave nor Web Summit are registered as corporate donors.

He references Mr Cosgrave’s interview on RTÉ’s This Week, where Mr Byrne says Mr Cosgrave “admits that the purpose of Web Summit’s donation to The Ditch is a political one and he outlines the agenda of the online platform”.

Mr Cosgrave said in the interview he allocated €1m to The Ditch over five years through his company Web Summit.

Mr Byrne says this is above the allowed threshold of political donations that registered corporate donors can make.

“The donation is far in excess of those permitted under the Acts and the purposes are clearly those outlined under S.22(2),” his complaint reads.

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Mr Byrne argues that The Ditch constitutes a “third party” under the relevant laws.

“It is correct in Ireland that we have limits on political funding.

“It is wrong that any wealthy individual seeks to use his wealth or that of his company to seek to influence Irish ­political life through a third party.”

He also references comments made by Mr Cosgrave in the radio interview and includes a timestamp. From the timestamp, Mr Cosgrave said: “The agenda of The Ditch is to investigate and interrogate those in positions of power for wrongdoing and they have done that incredibly successfully.”

When asked if he wants to take down the Government, he says: “Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – I am the overwhelming beneficiary of their policies that allow me to enjoy incredibly unusual tax privileges as one of the wealthiest people in this country.

“But I think their policies are pernicious and destructive to the interest of most people. So from my total self-interest, I shouldn’t want Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to change.

“Deep down, I know that how they operate, I think, is wrong and not to the benefit of the majority of people in this ­country. I think doing something about that, funding good investigative journalism that exposes some of that wrongdoing, I think, that is a reasonable and good thing for Web Summit to engage in.”

When contacted for a comment by the Irish Independent, Mr Cosgrave hit out at Fianna Fáil’s “Trump-style attack”.

“Malcolm Byrne should be complaining about the actions and inactions of his fellow Fianna Fáil politicians, not trying to distract from it all with baseless and frankly idiotic complaints,” he said.

“His attempt to silence investigative journalism is a dark day for democracy.”​

Sipo has been contacted for comment.

A spokesperson for The Ditch said it has been a member of the Press Council since January and if “Malcolm Byrne thinks the council is in the business of welcoming political organisations as members, he should take it up with them”.

They said Mr Byrne should “reflect” on if there is “political ideology” in those who support the State trying to “stamp out reporting they don’t like”.